Many high school students who anticipate university enrollment have often asked me what to consider when selecting where to go and where to apply. Here is what I would say.
1. Consider the worldview that your university is endorsing. The worldview that the university espouses is an absolute must in one’s consideration of where to go. Of course, whether you are a Christian determines the content of your reflections on this matter. I am a Christian, and the first thing I want to know about the institution that I planned to attend is whether the university holds to the same Christian worldview. Contrary to popular opinion, subjects are not floating pieces of data that have no connections with other fields of knowledge or the professors that teach it. Humans interpret data, and human subjects can never be divorced from their worldview. As one who is committed to the idea that all knowledge must have its basis in Christian-theism I submit that a distinctly Christian education is that which ought to be desired.
An atheistic position will itself provide a different worldview. It will sketch a different position on the nature of math, of law, of the sciences, and of the humanities (especially). The questions one ought to ask are: “Do I want to submit myself to this particular worldview? Do I want to be educated by a multiplicity of worldviews? Am I able to critically assess which worldview seems right and what seems wrong? Am I equipped for that?”
Or perhaps a bigger questions would be: “Do I care what the truth is? Do I care about the pursuit of truth? Do I believe that there is a truth out there to find and that this pursuit is itself an inherent good and an irreducible goal of education?”
Which brings me to my second point.
2. Keep in mind that different universities have different understandings of what a good education is.
This second point has two sub-points. (a) Different universities have different understandings of what makes a good education. Is a good education one that teaches a diversity of views, or is it that teaches one complete and consistent system of thought?
The former has the advantages of constantly challenging the scope, depth, and capacity of our thinking by always presenting to us different points of view. But this usually means that every class will contradict all the other classes, which may be a source of frustration to one who would like to go deeper in a particular subject matter.
Diversity normally stultifies depth, whereas systematic harmony may be conducive for depth but inadequate for a wide exposure to the differing view points. It is one thing to learn about one view from professors who all agree on a contrary position, it is quite another to learn from someone who actually believes in the views he is teaching, and getting in another classroom who disagrees those views.
(b) Different universities have different understandings of what a good education is. That is, what is the purpose of education itself? This is something that you must work out for yourself. What do you believe about education? There are, it seems to me, two prevalent views of what education is – the two are not mutually exclusive, and the difference is primarily about priority. I offer only broad strokes here.
First, there is the view that education is primarily training for a job. But if this is the primary purpose of education, what it normally means is, you believe that education is primarily about getting the highest-paid job. Seen in this light, education is pragmatic in nature, and we can reduce education to anything that you believe would make you the highest income at the end of the day. This reveals a lot about one’s worldview. It reveals that you believe that the purpose of life is money making – that money is an end in itself. I disagree with this view. Money, in my view, is a means and not an ends.
There is another view that education is primarily about the pursuit of truth. Whether in the sciences, in religion, in law, or in any other field, education is seen as cultivating the desire for truth as an inherent good. This view presupposes the position that extending human knowledge is in itself something to be pursued (and one that, I think, can only make sense in light of a Christian worldview). There is also an assumption here that truth is discoverable, unchanging, and stable.
Truth is not something that progresses up and down, but rather is fixed and determinate. We may be wrong in ascertaining what we thought to be true in one point in history, but it does not mean that the truth has changed, but rather that our data or antecedent interpretation was mistaken. There are, however, some things that one can take for granted to be inviolable (to make a non-controversial example, that 2+2 = 4; to make an increasingly controversial example, that pedophilia is an inherent evil – the previous datum from the field of math, and the latter datum from the field of philosophical ethics). Those who disagree with this view will likely be frustrated with the liberal arts (why should we take a course on sociology when I just want to focus on building a business?).
These above two points provide some of the foundational axioms that frame my next five brief questions to consider.
1. Is there a unity to the diversity in the University you are looking at? In other words, are all the fields of life connected by a central unifying factor? Or are all the diverse fields seen as atomistic having no direct correlation to one another? A good education, in my view, must be able to relate all the fields of knowledge together in a coherent fashion.
2. Does the university have a global focus which sees the world as its field of operation, or is it a more regional school?
3. Is every field of knowledge seen as something worth pursuing by the University? Is there a coherent reason for seeing why this is the case?
4. Does the University care about strong ethical standards that norm their teaching in those fields?
5. Will the University challenge your growth not just intellectually, but also morally, in terms of your character? A strong moral character must complement intellectual rigor.
Christianity, I contend, provides the best framework for understanding each of the above 5 brief points, in my view.
1. Christianity believes in a Trinitarian God, who is an inherent unity in diversity. God exists in one and three persons, which accounts for the various unities and diversities we see in the world (Various cultures, for example, hold to differing cultural norms but overall seem to share the same ethical standards). This has rich philosophical implications that I cannot get into here.
2. Christianity believes that the world is God’s world and that every person is equally made in the image of God.
3. Every field of knowledge, in Christianity’s view, is worth pursuing because the pursuit of knowledge is the pursuit of thinking God’s thoughts after him – God’s truth is unchangeable and he has made it so that the truth of the world (which is a created form of the plan in his mind) is discoverable, stable, and worth cultivating for his own glory. Also, man must image God in his creative activity as he takes and develops that which God has given him.
4. From the Christian perspective, the normative standards of ethics cannot be divorced from the epistemological and metaphysical aspects of life.
5. As C.S. Lewis said, a good education without proper moral guidance would simply lead one to become a “smarter devil.” There is no point in making rigorous logicians who are morally bankrupt – they will only become better at rationalizing their immorality.
This brief piece, then, could be a good starting point for one’s thinking about education.